This article was updated on May 1st, 2023
Nobody enjoys a stuffy nose or a tight chest, your dog included. Not only does nasal and chest congestion make breathing difficult for them, it can also decrease their sense of smell, cause coughing, and make playtime no fun.
Can Dogs Get Colds or Get Congested?
Yes, dogs get upper respiratory infections just like people do. And they get respiratory infections the same way humans do: by encountering germs. This can occur at boarding and grooming facilities, doggy daycare, the vet’s office, dog parks, or even from dogs passing by and smelling each other through the backyard fence.
How Do You Know When a Dog is Congested?
A lot of symptoms can accompany a dog’s congestion. Take note of anything unusual, as it will help your vet diagnose the issue. Frequent symptoms include:
– Difficulty breathing
– Loss of energy
– Loss of appetite
Let’s look at different causes of congestion in dogs and what can be done to make your dog feel better fast.
Causes of Congestion in Dogs
Congestion in dogs doesn’t happen for just one reason, there may be many things that have your dog stuffed up. Finding out the exact cause will better aid the treatment so that you can get your pup feeling better quickly.
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- Viral infection: Think of this as the common cold. A viral infection of the sinuses or nasal passages can cause swelling and inflammation that makes it hard for your pup to breathe. It may also bring on a runny nose and eyes, usually with clear discharge, coughing, sneezing, and lethargy. Most viral infections tend to be mild to moderate. However, some can cause more severe illnesses if they aren’t taken care of. Viral infections usually find their way to a dog by contact with other infected dogs.
- Bacterial infection: Bacteria also like to make their way into the nasal passages, sinuses, and chests of our canine companions. The trouble with bacteria is they tend to elicit an immune response that creates thick, colored discharge from the eye and nose, along with inflammation of the airways, making it even harder for a dog to breathe. Dogs may also run a fever, cough, sneeze, not eat, and be lethargic. Occasionally, chest congestion in dogs can be due to pneumonia, a serious infection of the lungs that requires immediate treatment so that a dog can breathe. Bacterial respiratory infections can be passed from dog to dog or by contact with bacteria on objects.
- Fungal infection: Depending on where you live, fungal infections that cause congestion in dogs can be a concern. Fungal spores from the environment can reproduce in the respiratory system and cause congestion in dogs. These infections tend to go on and on, and owners may not notice anything other than a cough and mild congestion that lasts for weeks or even months.
- Allergies: Some dogs respond to pollen, mold, dust, and smoke like humans do. Lots of sneezing, coughing, watery eyes, runny noses, and congestion can occur due to allergies. For some dogs, these signs are seasonal. For others, they may happen any time of the year.
- Foreign objects: Dogs love to explore their world with their noses, making it easy to inhale grass seeds, dirt, or anything small enough to make it through their nostrils. Some foreign objects can get lodged in the nasal passage or sinuses, causing inflammation and congestion. Infections may occur secondary to foreign objects as well. Depending on where the foreign object is, dogs may also sneeze, have a runny or bloody nose, or cough if the object is in their chest.
- Others: Less frequently congestion in dogs may be a result of a tumor or heart disease. Other signs will depend on the issue and where it is, but you may notice dogs not wanting to exercise, difficulty breathing, nasal discharge, coughing, bloody nose, or lethargy.
Is it Nose or Chest Congestion?
Since congestion can happen in a dog’s nose, sinuses, or chest, different sounds may accompany different types of congestion.
- For nasal or sinus congestion, you may hear some sneezing or extra panting because your dog can’t breathe through their nose. They may also snort, sniff, or whistle when trying to get air through their nasal passageways, similar to the way a Bulldog breathes normally.
For Bulldog owners out there, of course, this is completely normal, which can make it a little difficult to determine when your short-nosed breed is congested.
- For chest congestion, there will almost always be coughing. The cough will usually be moist and phlegmy since they are trying to dislodge the mucous that is partially causing the congestion. Dogs may also wheeze when trying to breathe since chest congestion makes it difficult to get air into the lungs.
Home Remedies to Help Congestion in Dogs
A mild doggie head cold can often be treated at home. If your dog is having some coughing, sneezing, and a runny nose with their congestion, but is otherwise eating well and moving around normally, try some of the following steps first.
- Use a humidifier. The moist air from a humidifier can help to decrease inflammation and congestion of the airways. Place one in your dog’s most frequented area and allow them to rest while breathing it in. Don’t use any essential oils in the humidifier, as some are toxic to dogs.
- Treat your dog to shower. Do not get your pup wet, but simply let them sit in the bathroom while a hot shower is running. The warm, moist air from your shower is for him. Bringing your dog into the bathroom with you while you shower can help to break up mild nasal and sinus congestion.
- Give him a little TLC. A cold is a cold, and we all know what that feels like. Let your pup rest, skip the long walks for a little while, and maybe give them a canned food that’s a little aromatic and enticing if they’re not wanting to eat.
Call your veterinarian if your dog’s mild congestion isn’t getting better within 2-3 days. If your dog has more serious signs, such as difficulty breathing, a fever, not eating, or a persistent cough, get a vet appointment. Consider it an emergency if your pup’s tongue is turning blue or they collapse. More serious forms of congestion should be seen by a veterinarian.
When Should I call the Vet About My Dog’s Congestion?
With any luck, your dog’s mild congestion will get better within a day or two. However, more severe cases might not, so you’ve got to seek further treatment. If their coughing, sneezing, and runny nose do not get better after 2-3 days, it’s time to consult your vet.
If your dog starts to show any signs of getting worse, such as stopping eating, running a fever, or having difficulty breathing, get the next available appointment.
Anytime your dog is having trouble taking in air, it’s a cause for concern. If you notice a lot of open-mouth breathing or belly breathing, see your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Get to the emergency clinic if your dog’s tongue starts to turn purple or blue or if they collapse during exercise.
What Will a Vet Do For Congestion in Dogs?
The first thing your veterinarian will want to know is what is causing the congestion and how long it’s been going on. They will perform an exam complete with listening to the heart and lungs, looking at the throat, and taking the dog’s temperature.
Blood work and x-rays may also be done to check for pneumonia, heart issues, and tumors. Your vet may also collect samples of any nasal discharge or phlegm to culture for bacteria.
Once your vet makes a diagnosis of the cause of your dog’s congestion, they can make up a treatment plan.
Disclaimer: This content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your vet for health decisions. Learn more.
- For viral and bacterial infections, antibiotics are typically given to fight the infection or to prevent secondary infections. Fungal infections take a long course of antifungals. If caught early and treated properly, most infections, including pneumonia, can be treated with a very favorable outcome. Look to spend anywhere from $200-$1,000 to treat respiratory infections that cause congestion.
- Treating allergies can be a sticky situation. Of course, the best allergy treatment is removing the allergen. Sounds easy, except it can be very difficult to pinpoint the exact allergens that affect your dog and cause them congestion. If the allergen can’t be removed, you’re more than likely going to have to treat the allergies, seasonally or not, for the rest of their life. Some congestion-causing allergies respond to antihistamines, others need different therapies. Allergy testing and allergy shots are available with variable results. It may cost $50-$200 for the initial treatment, followed by prescription refills.
- Foreign objects will more than likely need to be removed, and then the damage that they cause will need to be treated. Removal will require sedation or even surgery, depending on where the problem lies. Your dog may then need anti-inflammatories and antibiotics as a follow-up. Spending $200-$2,000 is expected to get a foreign body out of a dog’s nose or chest.
What to Know For the Veterinary Visit
Your vet is going to get a first-hand view and listen to your dog’s congestion; however, they may want to know if there are any other sounds associated at different times of the day, such as first thing in the morning or during exercise. They will also want to know how long your dog has been congested, if they’ve gotten better or worse, and if thy’ve traveled or been around other dogs lately.
Also, be ready to tell your vet about any other signs your dog may be showing, such as not eating, or lethargy, and if other dogs in your household are affected. If your dog coughs up or sneezes a lot of phlegm, you may want to grab a sample to show your vet just in case.
Are certain breeds more likely to be affected by congestion than others?
Brachycephalic breeds, such as Bulldogs, Pugs, and Boston Terriers, are more likely to experience congestion since they are prone to breathing problems already.
What if my dog sounds congested only when sleeping?
Snoring or snorting while sleeping can be concerning and may be caused by different things. Some congestion during sleeping may be due to the position that your dog is sleeping in. If they’re having signs of congestion while awake as well, see your veterinarian.
Is it ok to give a dog Benadryl?
Benadryl is safe to give to most healthy dogs. However, you shouldn’t give any medications to your dog without supervision from your veterinarian.
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